Raised during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when girls were not encouraged to love or play sports, I was lucky.
I had my own personal Title IX. I had my dad.
I couldn’t wait until my father came home from work every night so I could play catch with him in the front yard. For a time, I borrowed one of his old baseball mitts. Then, for my eighth birthday, when my parents asked me what I wanted, I said I would like my own glove. Today, a girl asking for a baseball mitt wouldn’t make news, but this didn’t happen today. It happened in 1966.
Sure enough, a brand new Rawlings mitt became one of my favorite presents ever. Dad and I broke it in that first night, throwing a baseball back and forth. What were the neighbors to think? My father didn’t care. He went back to the store and bought me a bat as well.
Things escalated from there. I was very tall for my age and immediately found a home in sports, much to the delight of my father, a former high school and college football lineman.
But it wasn’t enough to simply play sports in the neighborhood. I wanted to start going to games. As soon as I asked, my father started taking me. It was like magic.
Dad took me to dozens of sporting events, from Toledo Mud Hens and Detroit Tigers baseball games in the summer to University of Toledo and Michigan football games in the fall. Soon, it wasn’t just my father and me; my three younger siblings joined in, as did various kids on our street. Boys, girls – it didn’t matter to my dad, a latter-day Pied Piper with season tickets.
Dad somehow bought tickets for the big Michigan-Ohio State game of 1969, but it was raw and cold, with snow on the ground. A decision had to be made. Stay home and watch it on TV? Or go? To my father, it was an easy call. “We’ve got to be able to smell it,” he declared. And so our mother bundled us up and off we went to Ann Arbor with our dad.
When we arrived in massive Michigan Stadium, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We looked around and saw many fathers, but no other children. The other fathers all had brought their wives. But lucky us; our father had brought us.
Our good fortune seemed to never run out. On summer Sunday afternoons, when many fathers were hitting golf balls with their pals at the country club, my dad took his three daughters and one son to a public par-3 course to learn the game. And when he was invited by friends to play at clubs that didn’t allow women or minorities, he said no. He wasn’t going to set foot anywhere his girls couldn’t go.
In the years that followed, my father attended almost every one of our high school games. It was one thing to go to a football game on a Friday night. He did that. It was another thing entirely to dash out of the office on a Tuesday afternoon in time for the tip-off of a girls’ basketball game. He did that too. Often, he was the only father in the stands.
Because of my dad, I grew up with a knowledge that few women my age ever had: I was certain that there would always be a place for me in sports.
In the ensuing years, I followed my love of sports and writing into the adventure of a lifetime. It became my “job” to cover sports, and Dad sometimes joined me. He came with me to college football games, the Olympics, the Rose Bowl.
It was the least I could do, to share with him what he once had shared with me.